The lockout has already knocked out the first two months of the season, and it threatens to knock out much more than that. The Winter Classic is likely to be next (source: GlobeandMail.com), and the longer the lockout goes, the greater the chance the entire 2012-13 season will get canceled.
Fans don't want this to happen, players don't want this to happen and perhaps some of the owners don't want this to happen.
Bettman may make sure this happens.
He runs the sport of hockey, and there's not much to run when the teams aren't playing and every game on the schedule is canceled, but Bettman wants to change the financial structure of the game (source: New York Times). He thinks the players are getting too much of the NHL's Hockey Related Revenues, and he wants to reduce their share.
Until Bettman and NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr reach an agreement, the owners' lockout of the players will continue.
Currently, there is little hue and cry among the owners. The majority of them appear to be in lock step with Bettman. If they are worried about the state of their individual teams or their sport as a whole, they are not giving any public statements to that effect.
That's because Bettman does not want any public opposition during the lockout. According to the New York Times, Bettman has the power to fine any owner $1 million for divulging internal league business.
The owners appear to be under Bettman's thumb. He has made money for them since becoming commissioner in 1993. NHL revenues have grown from $400 million to $3.3 billion in the last 20 years (source: sportsnet.ca).
That has given him the kind of influence that has allowed him to lock out the players. He also imposed a lockout in 1994-95 that reduced the regular season to 48 games. The 2004-05 lockout wiped out the entire season.
The owners are perceived to have won the 2004-05 lockout in a rout. If that lockout had not gone well for the league, Bettman's power would have likely been cut or he would have been fired.
Bettman's long-term status will likely be determined by the current lockout. Even though he is up against a seasoned and formidable opponent in Fehr, it's difficult to see the owners losing this battle either.
Whether the season is lost or not, if the owners come out with another favorable deal, Bettman will not be going anywhere.
Even if the deal is viewed as a fair deal for both sides or even a slight victory for the players, it doesn't seem likely he is going to leave his position any time soon.
A major players' victory would change the landscape, but that dramatic development is seen as highly unlikely.
He has full power in the NHL, and it does not seem like there is anyone who can or is willing to challenge him.
He's likely to remain as commissioner as long as he wants.